Guns and the fruitless search for moral authority
For the first time since 1920 the New York Times put an editorial on its front page calling on the U.S. to ‘End the Gun Epidemic in America.’ The editorial came in the wake of an Islamic terror attack by a husband and wife team in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people and wounded 21 others.
The bodies were still warm when the name of the lead suspect in the massacre was made public, and the New York Times played dumb for a few days. The paper first noted that the suspects left “no clear motive” but a day later said that terrorism was an “aspect” of the investigation. After every other newspaper in the world said it was terrorist attack, the Times noted that the F.B.I. was treating it like one. Watching the Gray Lady perform the mental gymnastics of wondering aloud about the motive of these shooters over several days was sad to see. Don’t hurt yourself thinking too hard, New York Times, most of us had it figured out early.
But while the newspaper of record was too chickenshit to call a terrorist attack a terrorist attack, it wasted no time in its front page editorial painting the exercise of Americans’ constitutional rights as a “moral outrage and national disgrace.” The editorial called for “eliminating large categories of weapons and ammunition” and saying that citizens would have to surrender some of their arms “for the good of their fellow citizens.”
What’s galling about the Times’ editorial, among other things, is that the motive of religious terrorists was very relevant when a Christian fundamentalist shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic, but somehow discussing motive is shameful of the wake of the latest Islamic terrorist attack within our borders. The anti-abortion crazy who killed three people at the women’s clinic was spurred in part by anti-abortion propaganda that hinged on fraudulent videos. It’s not anti-Christian bigotry to call out the role of religious extremism in the Colorado terror attack, but somehow Islamic extremism isn’t quite news fit to print, at least for a few days and then qualified by citing the F.B.I.
There are a lot of issues that need to be discussed in the wake of this terror attack. We need to have a more restrictive and security-driven immigration system. Muslim Americans are more susceptible to violent religious fanaticism than people of other religions and rooting out these elements is going to be a very tough and brutal effort.
But the culture war dictates that the gun control issue is pushed to the fore. So let’s address it then.
What gun control advocates don’t understand is that gun ownership is an integral part of America. We wouldn’t have America without individuals owning guns and it’s no coincidence that the first British troops fired upon in Lexington and Concord were there to confiscate guns. The Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms to “The People” and cites the need for a militia because our country’s founders didn’t want what we already have: a standing military with bases in more than 100 countries. The authors of the Second Amendment viewed such professional militaries as a threat to democracy. Getting rid of “certain kinds of guns” is going to be fruitless because technology will not stop developing and there are already many guns on the market that straddle the line between hunting weapons and assault rifle explicitly for this purpose. We can’t eliminate the right to bear arms without amending the Constitution, and anyone who wants only the police and military to have guns is either extremely naïve or harbors some kind of odd uniform fetish.
What some of my fellow gun enthusiasts don’t understand is that we already have the worst of both worlds. Our guns aren’t stopping the government from undemocratic policies and we have horrible levels of violent crime. If the government wants your name they are going to have it, and it won’t take them long to find our guns if we bury them. The law enforcement officers or soldiers we’d be fighting are often gun enthusiasts themselves so I don’t see some great gun confiscation coming, despite the wishes of the editorial scribes of the New York Times.
So here is a solution that might actually work if it’s ever implemented. What would work is to have one federal system for keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and extremists. This would be one standard for the entire country. One set of rules for everyone to follow. It would mean passing a basic safety course and background check, and making sure that there were proper training for different weapons (e.g. – operating an assault rifle takes more training, especially with models like the AR-15 so popular in the U.S.). There are safety and security protocols everyone must follow and these would be subject to spot inspections in order to keep your certification. A basic mental health evaluation would be included. How this entices gun owners and manufacturers is that this would END the bans on assault rifles and “high capacity” magazines popular in many liberal states. It would END the absurd and unconstitutional red tape that many cities and states put around the exercise of our constitutional rights (the cost of the gun permit in New York City is more expensive than many guns).
Trying to take entire classes of guns and ammunition out of Americans’ hand is not only going to be unconstitutional but unsuccessful. But creating a system that both embraces our rights and regulates against the very real danger of violent crime will be a welcome solution.